Dear Ally: My Issue With Hidden Figures

Dearest Beloved Ally,

We disagree on this movie, but that’s okay. We can agree that the story itself is important, and that the performances were stellar (no pun intended/I am Satan).

I’m glad you saw and supported the movie, and I’m more glad that it’s a movie that has sparked conversation, thought, and a desire to understand the realities that black people had to face and still have to face. The film does tell an important story, and it is important to share these stories so that people think about what they can do to be better people and more understanding people.

Black people have a plethora of stories about us overcoming adversity on our own. Black women have even more of those stories because they got two checks against them in society. So this particular story is truly amazing and spectacular. So in the sense that it is important for black stories to be exposed to people, and that it is important for black people to be visible on the big screen, I will say that that Hidden Figures was an especially significant film.

But there are many ways to make a movie and tell a story. My main issues with Hidden Figures and movies like it, is that they are often made without black creative teams to flesh out any nuances specific to black or in this case, black female experiences. This was a movie written by a white woman/white man, and directed by a white man. So the things that were fabricated in the film were designed to assuage the guilt of a liberal white audience. So ultimately the issues I have with this movie are the issues I have with the industry are the issues I have with white dominance in creative spaces. And there may be things here that probably should be reserved for more of an intraracial conversation, because a great deal of what I feel about white dominance is hard to imagine and downright horrifying, but I digress. The makers of Hidden Figures made up too much, and they took too many things lightly that could have been more fleshed out by a team that understood the reality, thus what could afford to be rewritten.

People were scared when they were stopped by cops. Katherine Johnson didn’t run 500 miles to the black bathroom, she went to the white one because THAT was where she chose not to give a fuck. But because I guess we needed a laugh and an extra 15 minutes, they threw that sequence in. Kevin Costner’s character did not exist, because there was no white hero championing them in that way. There was no heroic smashing of the colored restroom sign. They did not let her into mission control. They slammed the door in her face and that was that. But recognition from white people is not what made their work important, and I wish that point was accentuated better. These women did thankless work and remained thankless until another black woman decided to write the story and Obama became president. But it wasn’t enough for her to be proud of her work or for her girls to be proud. We had to have them make up that scene where Kevin Costner pats her on the back.

Black women have been lifting each other up forever, and that was the movie I wanted to see. But I don’t expect the writers of the film to get that.

And history is rewritten all of the time in movies, so my problem is who does it serve? This is why I had as many issues with it as I had. Especially since they don’t always make movies about black women in science. I would love to be able to compare this to other movies, but I can’t because Hollywood threw us all a bone with this movie. How many years will it be till we get another (hopefully better) movie about black women in science? And will it be a priority for studios to get black women in the writers’ room? The director’s seat?

I was wrong to call this movie trash. It was an excessive statement to make, without considering or praising it’s finer points, which, honestly was the attempt to make a movie about blackness that wasn’t mired in pain, and the performances were very good. I just think black filmmakers would have done a more authentic job.

But the extreme “this is trash” reaction is to parts of it that were very upsetting to me. Because black women deserve better work. More capable work. The opportunity to tell their own stories. However well intentioned, this kind of revisionist American social fan-fiction is every bit dangerous as the fake news from Breitbart.

There is this fantasy perpetuated by Hollywood about the way things “used to be” and the way things were “back then.” The shitty reality, is that racism never “went away” and black folks for as long as you and I have been alive will not taste the same draught of freedom that you will taste.

Like the artificial intelligence of the Terminator robots, racism only became easier to hide and accept. Racism adapts to every victory we liberal folks tend to tell ourselves we have. It’s embedded into conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, etc. Any major institution that we support, it is embedded there, and we may not ever truly rid ourselves of the disease. That’s why as a black audience member, it’s important for me to critique and/criticize films like Hidden Figures while also praising them.


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